Words intrigue me. They are a paradox, weighty and weightless.
What do they mean? Common usage assigns meaning, and dictionaries crystallize it. Still–I may speak or write a word or words and mean something utterly different from what common usage or the dictionary would indicate. I may be deceitful or misunderstood. Words have a power, but the power is limited by the one using and the one receiving.
It doesn’t help that words are wiggly things–they morph over time into new meanings or fade from usage entirely and are replaced by others. They are shaped by context and tone. And while as symbols they have been a powerful tool for our species, they never quite seem to capture the reality they represent. A word is no more the thing it symbolize than a cup can be the water it carries. I “love” my wife. What does that mean? Everything and nothing. Can the word every really capture that particular reality?
In a world awash with words it would seem some caution might be in order. Speak and write with care. What is weightless to me might be crushing to you. Read and listen with care. What I receive may not be what you intended. Just because something can be said doesn’t mean it should be. These admonishments seem fairly obvious.
But there are other, less obvious hazards regarding words. Beware of deifying words. They are as imperfect as we humans that use them. We want to set them in stone. We want them to be the thing they represent. But they are not. They are images, and images easily become idols. People maim and kill, emotionally and literally, over idols.
Words also become filters of sorts. I identify myself as “this” and you as “that”. All my perceptions become colored by my “thisness” and your “thatness”. So words become walls that keep us apart from and blind to the fullness of being of those on the other side.
Yes, we must walk carefully in this world of words.